Following the publishing of a series of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad which provoked protests throughout the Middle East, on Monday night Denmark’s largest selling broadsheet newspaper issued an apology to the “honourable citizens of the Muslim world.
In a long statement the editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten admitted that the 12 cartoons, one of which depicted Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, had caused “serious misunderstandings”. Carsten Juste said, “The 12 cartoons were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims, for which we apologise.”
Juste spoke for hours after Scandinavians were warned against travelling to Gaza and the West Bank after the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade demanded that all Swedes and Danes leave the territories. An Iraqi militant group joined the protests when it called for attacks against Danish and Norwegian targets after a Norwegian newspaper ran the cartoons.
Danish businesses started to take fright yesterday after religious leaders in Saudi Arabia, which last week recalled its ambassador to Copenhagen, called for a boycott of Danish goods. The dairy group Arla Foods reported that two of its staff in Saudi Arabia had been beaten by angry customers.
This prompted Arla’s executive director to press the Danish government to take action. “I urgently beg the government to enter a positive dialogue with the many millions of Muslims who feel they have been offended by Denmark,” said Peder Tuborgh.
In this tensed atmosphere, Jyllands-Posten finally confessed that it had made a mistake, and published an apology on its website thereafter.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, welcomed the apology on Monday night. Claiming that the government could not apologise on behalf of newspapers, Mr Rasmussen told the TV2 channel: “I personally have such a respect for people’s religious belief that I personally never would have depicted Muhammad, Jesus or any other religious character in a way that could offend other people.”
Danish officials will be hoping that the apology will be able to cease the fire which was sparked on September 30 when Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons. They caused deep offence on two grounds: Islam bars any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad and the cartoons were deemed grossly offensive. One drawing depicted the Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse; while in another he wielded a sword.
Protests were at first limited mainly to Denmark, though there were demonstrations in Karachi and Muslims sent angry emails to Danish embassies.
Mr Rasmussen, who was first elected after exploiting resentment of asylum-seekers, initially misjudged the mood by declining to meet ambassadors from 11 Islamic countries.
Amid increasing protests, Mr Rasmussen eventually addressed the matter in the new year, when he condemned attempts “to demonise groups of people on the basis of their religion or ethnic background”. He mentioned “a few unacceptably offensive” instances, but stopped short of naming Jyllands-Posten. This failed to please a lot of Muslims who placed advertisements in newspapers in the Middle East condemning the cartoons.